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Flyers Clinch Playoff Birth

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DALLAS (AP) — This time, the Philadelphia Flyers clinched their playoff berth early.

Ville Leino scored in the sixth round of the shootout to give the Flyers a 3-2 victory over the Dallas Stars on Saturday night and their 35th trip to the playoffs.

Claude Giroux had a goal in the second round for the Flyers, but Mike Ribeiro tied it in the third round with a nifty hesitation move.

Leino secured a second point for the Flyers by backhanding a shot into an open net after Kari Lehtonen skated out from the crease to challenge the shooter.

Last season, Philadelphia didn’t assure a playoff spot until the final day by beating the Rangers in a shootout.

Now the Flyers are looking to earn home ice throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

“We’ve never talked about clinching a playoff berth, we’ve always talked about home ice, all rounds. Game 7 if it comes to that in our building,” Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette said. “That’s why we continue to push.”

Other than Ribeiro’s goal, Sergei Bobrovsky was perfect in the other five shootout rounds.

“In the shootout, he was great and made the saves when he had to,” Flyers center Jeff Carter said.

Carter and Mike Richards scored in regulation and Bobrovsky made 28 saves for the Flyers. Philadelphia, with 96 points, broke a tie with the Washington Capitals atop the Eastern Conference.

Philadelphia went 2-0-1 on its road trip and will return home to meet the Capitals on Tuesday and Pittsburgh on Thursday.

“Look at the standings, they’re both playing pretty good hockey, right on our tails, so we have to come out with our best games,” Flyers defenseman Sean O’Donnell said of the upcoming matchups.

Defensemen Alex Goligoski and Stephane Robidas scored in regulation and Lehtonen stopped 28 shots for the Stars, 2-2-2 in a season-high, seven-game homestand. Lehtonen fell to 0-10-2 against the Flyers.

Dallas rallied from a two-goal deficit to tie it at 2 at 15:24 of the third period when Robidas skated into the Flyers zone and scored with a slap shot from the slot.

“Robie didn’t get much of a chance but the seas parted and he had a chance to unleash his shot, and it was a great shot. He found a hole,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said.

The Stars had a 4-on-3 advantage with 1:37 left in regulation when Kimmo Timonen flipped the puck into the stands on an attempted clearing pass.

But Dallas was unable to cash in on the power play that extended into overtime.

Carter gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead with 1:21 left in the first period when Andrej Meszaros’ 40-foot shot deflected off Carter’s skate and past Lehtonen.

Richards extended the lead to 2-0 at 1:17 of the second when he flipped a loose puck through Lehtonen’s pads from close range.

Goligoski’s shot from the blue line beat a screened Bobrovsky at 12:44 of the second to pull the Stars within a goal.

Notes: The Flyers have won five straight against the Stars, including a 3-1 victory in Philadelphia on Feb. 5. … RW Loui Eriksson (upper body) and RW Adam Burish (lower body) were out for Dallas, and D Nicklas Grossman didn’t return after sustaining a lower body injury in the first period. Stars D Karlis Skrastins was done after two periods with an undisclosed injury, leaving Dallas with four defensemen. … Stars LW Steve Ott left the ice early in the third period after he was accidentally hit in the face by a stick, but returned. … Lehtonen played in his 13th straight game and 59th this season, one more than the previous two injury-plagued seasons.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)